It’s a sad commentary on humanity that many advancements in medicine were developed or perfected because of war. Blood transfusions, the use of antibiotics, anaesthesia even the development of chemotherapy for cancer treatment are among them.
Some advancements in mental health can also trace their origins back to the treatment of those suffering from mental scars left behind by war. One of these was the development of hypnosis as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Origin of the Term
The term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was first used in the late 1970s. It was adopted by psychiatrists who treated veterans returning from the Vietnam War. Of course, the effects war had on soldiers’ mental health were recognized long before then.
During the American Civil War, soldiers were said to have a “Lost Heart;” in WWI, it was called “Shell Shock,” and in WWII, it was “Battle Fatigue.” Or “The Thousand-yard Stare”.
Sadly, PTSD sufferers were in those days often regarded as cowards, court-martialled and even executed for desertion. We have come a long way since then, but a great deal of additional research needs to be done to adequately address the problem of PTSD.
The Nature of PTSD
Obviously, PTSD isn’t exclusive to those who served on the battlefield. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event may share disturbing thoughts and feelings, flashbacks, nightmares, sadness, fear or anger
related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may feel detached or estranged from other people. PTSD can also be comorbid with anxiety and depression, making it incredibly troublesome to deal with.
Early on, just like those in the military, civilians who suffered from PTSD were labelled with conditions with unfortunate names. For instance, the trauma symptoms experienced by persons who survived a train crash was diagnosed as Railway spine.
World War I
Now, where does hypnosis and, by extension, hypnotherapy come in?
Let’s go back the WWI for a bit, or as it was called then, the war to end all wars. The conflict was then unparalleled in its scale of death and devastation than any conflict before it. In four years, the world lost 20 million lives due to the work ranking to this day among one of the deadliest human conflicts in history.
In addition to the devastation in terms of the loss of human lives, those in authority were coming to terms with the cost of the damage the battlefield was doing to the mental health of their soldiers. Armies were losing a staggering amount of soldiers to bullets, shells, and gas and the effects of what they called “Shell Shock”.
Early Use of Hypnosis in PTSD
Queen Square’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery took in psychological casualties from all allied countries. Soldiers presented with symptoms ranging from unexplained deafness, abnormal gaits, violent shaking, paralysis, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, flashbacks and persistent nightmares, all classic displays of PTSD. Doctors could not find a medical explanation for the symptoms, and sufferers were described as having “shell shock” or battlefield psychosis (Ketchell, 2014).
The typical course of psychological treatment wasn’t working fast enough for the powers that wanted these soldiers battle-ready and back on the front line. The doctors taking care of them were distressed by their patients’ seemingly incurable state. It was a challenge faced by both the Allied and Central Powers.
Psychologists tried everything to make a name for themselves, but the most significant successes were achieved using hypnosis. There are several surviving clinical films showing a remarkable turnaround for some patients. Unlike today hypnosis was used as a single modality treatment, meaning the client wasn’t given a holistic treatment for the condition, just hypnosis alone.
Hypnosis was still viewed sceptically, however, despite these victories until its wide acceptance as a therapeutic tool during and after the second world war.
As I mentioned before, PTSD isn’t exclusive to military veterans. Any traumatic event can bring it on. It is common after physical or sexual assault, prolonged abuse, severe injury or witnessing a death. And while post-traumatic stress disorder is far more common among different subgroups like the armed forces, rape victims, prisoners, law enforcement officers, and emergency responders, the prevalence rate in the population can be below.
For instance, in North America, although 40-60 per cent of community adults are exposed to trauma, only about 8% develop PTSD, which suggests to resources that trauma alone isn’t enough to cause PTSD.
What do I mean by that? For example, a husband and wife drive home from dinner and get into a bad car accident. What allows the wife, after her recovery, the ability to continue on with her life as if the crash never happened while the husband has a panic attack at the thought of driving?
Many theories have posited why this is the case that range from the philosophy one carries with them throughout their life, a person’s social position to a genetic predisposition for PTSD.
Hypnosis for PTSD Today
Today if hypnosis is employed in treating PTSD, it is used as an adjunct to some form of psychotherapy. In my practice, hypnotherapy combines cognitive behavioural therapy, DIalectice Behavior Therapy, positive psychology, and hypnosis.
• Improve your symptoms
• Teach you skills to deal with it
• Restore your self-esteem
We would do this by changing the thought patterns that disturb your life.
There is Hope
While PTSD can be a long-standing debilitating condition, it is important to remember hope for those struggling with this disorder. About 50 per cent of clients recover while the other 50 develop a cornic version of the condition.
Hypnotherapy, regular talk therapy, meditation, medication all offer an individual an opportunity to properly process the traumatic memory. There isn’t a one size fit treatment for any disorder, particularly this one. In my opinion, trauma survivors should be encouraged not to be discouraged and give everything a try until they find something that works for them.
While hypnotherapy has shown to work quicker than talk therapy alone, I would caution anyone not to be fooled into believing that long-lasting change can happen overnight. This is not an instant fix or cure.
If you have become the victim of a traumatic event, seek help as soon as possible; addressing issues quickly can help shorten recovery time.